VETOES VITAMIN D STUDY, KNIK ARM CROSSING
Gov. Bill Walker signed the 2019 capital budget and, reversing course, left intact the one big shovel-ready project that Alaska has: Juneau Access.
Now, all the project needs is a “yes” from the governor to proceed with building the road.
Juneau Access is the 50-mile road north to Katzehin, where ferries would help connect travelers between Haines, Skagway, and Juneau by a day boats that would make numerous trips throughout the day. The ferries that were designed for the project are being built in Ketchikan; one is nearing completion this month.
The road project, decades in the making and a target of environmentalists, is a priority for the Alaska Committee, a group of Capital City civic activists trying to improve access to Alaska’s capital. It’s also a priority for the City and Borough of Juneau and has been for years.
Groups like the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council have tried to drive a stick into the spokes of the project for years, and had the governor’s ear, since he was elected with the help of strident anti-road types.
But a recent poll by the McDowell Group shows that a majority of Juneau residents now favor the project. Juneau’s economy, although better than the rest of the state, has flattened and the population is aging. Young people are leaving. A road could invigorate all of northern Southeast Alaska’s economy.
The Juneau Access project has passed all environmental reviews; 90 percent of the funds to build it will come through the federal government. The entire project is expected to cost over $500 million, and with an Alaska-friendly president in the White House, and Republican-controlled House and Senate, the road project has never been closer.
Funding is not the issue, proponents say. The project just needs a governor who is willing to say “go.” Some aspects of the project can be funded years down the road, such as parts of the new ferry terminal.
Two years ago, Walker chose the “no build” option, which made downtown Juneau rejoice, and many in the community despair. Lawmakers around the state favored the project, even though it wasn’t in their districts: Rep. Lance Pruitt of Anchorage was a vocal supporter, as was Sen. Anna MacKinnon of Eagle River.
Then, last year, Rep. Sam Kito and Rep. Justin Parish of Juneau and House Democrats stripped Juneau of $21 million from the project and sent it to other communities, such as Skagway and even in the Arctic. That action robbed the project of the matching funds needed to win federal funds.
This year, Kito and Parish were overridden, and the Legislature returned the money to Juneau.
Walker could have vetoed those funds. But there’s nothing so compelling as election-year realities to slap a politician upside the head. Unions that represent the building trades met with the governor numerous times over the past year and a half to try to persuade him to put the money back. A veto would have signed his political retirement papers.
The governor is not likely to change his mind on the “no build” option, but having the funds set aside for the road will be important to the next possibly pro-road governor.
NO VITAMIN D STUDY FOR SEATON
In the operating budget signed today, the governor vetoed a pet project of Rep. Paul Seaton, chair of House Finance, which produced the budget: Seaton’s infamous $500,000 Vitamin D study went away with the stroke of a pen.
Seaton has advocated for more Vitamin D in Alaskans’ diets, but opponents of the spending, including Rep. Charisse Millett of Anchorage, said that during tight fiscal times, having the State in a lead role on a Vitamin D study doesn’t make sense, particularly since there are literally dozens of studies of Vitamin D and its role in northern climates.
NO FUNDS TO CONTINUE KNIK ARM CROSSING
Gov. Walker also vetoed a small amount — $2.5 million — for the continuation of the study of the Knik Arm Crossing. The funds were not enough to move the project substantially forward in the coming year. The project is a 1.74-mile bridge across Knik Arm that would create safer access between two of the most populated areas of Alaska: Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley.